David Wells on "Churchless Christianity"
"...This attitude which diminishes the significance of being in church and which will not tolerate any inconvenience has had a strange incarnation overseas, if I can use that word. American missiologists like Ralph Winter have been strenuously advocating â€œchurchless Christianityâ€ as a new and exciting strategy. Their thought is that believers in other religious contexts need not separate themselves from those contexts but can remain in them as private believers, thereby preserving themselves from any kind of harm. This, of course, is easier to do in a Hindu context in which one is allowed to choose oneâ€™s own god from among the many that are worshipped. Christians, quietly and privately, are simply choosing to worship Jesus and ignoring the other gods and goddesses in the temple. They are never baptized, never make a public declaration of their faith, and never become part of a church. This arrangement is, of course, much harder to carry off in Islam. Nevertheless, Winter and others now estimate that there are millions of these â€œchurchlessâ€ believers concealed in other religions. And is this not where American evangelicalism is headed? In fact, there are already millions of believers concealed in their own living rooms whose only â€œchurchâ€ experience is what is had from one of the television preachers. Is it really a coincidence, then, that it is American evangelicals who are energetically arguing for the wisdom of a comparable strategy in the mission field in respect to their religious contexts? I think not!
Here we have an unholy alliance between raw pragmatism, a Christianity without doctrinal shape, one that in fact separates between having Christ as savior and Christ as Lord (an option that the N.T. never holds out to us!), and a lost understanding of the necessary role which the local church should have.
If we would but read our Bibles from the beginning, we would notice that from the beginning there was always an inescapable corporate dimension to believing. There were never â€œprivateâ€ believers in Israel, nor should there be today. The reason is that there are vital aspects of the Christian experience which simply cannot be had alone, disconnected from the people of God.
The language of koinonia, does not speak to how people feel (which is the way evangelicals typically use itâ€”â€œwe had great fellowship last night!â€), but to what is held in COMMON. It is used, for example, of a commonly owned business or property. The joint owners do not need to have warm feelings about each other in order to be joined in a common enterprise. And though warm feelings are good in the church, they are actually not at its centerâ€”I know that that is a shocking thing to say! At its center, though, is the reality of God (as Carl says), whose redeeming action in Christ on the Cross is what both unites believers and diminishes the importance of their private circumstances, social experiences, generational location, and personal preferences. (And this ,as Ligon notes, is what Reformed theology has been about at its best).
It really is no surprise that when the Holy Spirit falls in the Book of Acts (in chapters 2, 4, 10, and 19), it is not in the privacy of peopleâ€™s homes, but in public, the last two perhaps signaling the acceptance of Gentiles on the same grounds as Jews. Christianity was not carried out only in private because its truth claims were and are public as Paul made clear to Agrippa. And the letters to the seven churches in the Book of Revelation are letters to CHURCHES and when the mistakes and errors of these churches were not corrected, the historical record shows that they disappeared as CHURCHES. When Paul writes, as he does in I Cor. 3, of â€œwood, hay, strawâ€ he is not writing, as most evangelicals seem to think, of individuals though what he says there has a derivative application to individuals, but he is talking about CHURCHES. That passage is all about the building of the local church and many there are today that are wood, hay, and straw!
What I think we can say with certainty is that we all have to maintain a twofold relation to the Holy Spirit: one part of that is personal and the other is corporate as part of the local church. Churches can, in fact, lose their existence even while the Christians in them are preserved from losing their salvation. Preserving a churchâ€™s existence, and that kind of existence which is blessed of God, is something that has to be worked atâ€”and not simply by the minister. And if what I have said is true, then those who diminish the work of the local church or diminish their involvement in it, actually set themselves against the will of God and of necessity impoverish themselves."
- David Wells From Reformation 21